The modern term Linguist is preferred (over Grammarian) because it refers to someone who studies and understands how language works as system from a scientific point of view (linguistics).
Traditional Grammarians are concerned with notions of “correctness” and their approach is prescriptive – laying down the law about what is right and wrong is usage. Early Birds are interested in how people actually use the language – a descriptive approach.
As well as grammar, the Linguist will consider the other two key systems that are lexis (vocabulary) and phonology (sound systems which include phonetics).
The Linguist is considered one of the meeting’s Evaluators as they are offering feedback, observation, critical thinking, analysis and even a few recommendations.
Taking on the Linguist role is an opportunity to develop one’s understanding and appreciation of language which might in turn develop one’s own writing style.
The role of the Linguist
The function of a Toastmasters Linguist will be to offer insight into how speakers use the language – well, effectively, and (sparingly) not so well. Therefore, the focus should be on how vividly, interestingly, stylishly, and personally (i.e. avoiding cliché), speakers use words (especially in terms of image, allegory, alliteration, analogy, aphorism, hyperbole, gravitas, metaphor & simile, onomatopoeia, oxymoron, paradox and other figures of speech).
Perhaps you may choose, during “your” meeting, to concentrate on one element and challenge the speakers to adopt it (but not use it as the word of the day); mould it and utilise it as they deliver!
Consider this: Style is not applied like icing to a cake but permeates like whisky that has been incorporated into the mixture and gives the cake its characteristic flavour.
Our Linguist should recognise how the use of language supports and reinforces what each speaker has to say. So, as Linguist, what you seek from today’s speakers is effective terminology, structure and a style that brings out the beauty of the English language. Let’s comment positively by identifying colourful word pictures and eulogising on descriptive oratory that harmonises the senses.
Being supportive can be very helpful and encouraging for the speakers.
The English language has a huge array of rhetorical devices that can add spice and impact, so it’s worth reading up (or refreshing your knowledge) on what you might listen out for. From alliteration to epizeuxis to zeugma, each changes the effectiveness of a message in a different way. The Linguist is there to help highlight and appreciate these fundamental tools of speech-craft. You can find information online at sites such as Virtual Salt.
The Word of the Day
The Word of the Day is a challenge issued by the Linguist to the audience to incorporate into their time on stage.
Choose a word that you’ve partially recognised – but you’re never quite sure of its meaning, e.g. from the unusual words that one glosses over when reading a book or article. Try not to pick one that’s so obscure that no one has ever heard of it. Pick a word that people can easily weave into their talk. Adjectives and adverbs are more adaptable than nouns or verbs, but feel free to select your own special word. If you know the theme for the meeting, this might help inspire your word selection.
Typically, the Linguist will have the Word of the Day written or printed out to use as a visual aid and displayed during the meeting. You could also include its part of speech (adjective, adverb, noun, etc.) and a brief definition. Consider where and how you’ll display it (or indeed them, if using more than one) as a reminder to the audience or speaker on stage.
Rhetorical Device of the Day
As an alternative to the Word of the Day you might want to give the challenge of a Rhetorical Device of the Day.
Choose a device encountered in your research that you found interesting. Try to pick a device that is adaptable and that you can explain clearly during your introduction.
On the Day
Before the meeting
• Arrive at 6:45AM!
During the meeting
Introducing Your Role
You’ll be called upon to describe your role and explain what you do. You typically have a minute and a half for this. You might want to:
- Explain the purpose of your role and why it is important.
- If using a Word of the Day pronounce the word clearly. Provide its definition and, perhaps, give an example of the word in a phrase or sentence.
- If using a Rhetorical Device of the Day, clearly describe how it is used, with examples and explain its effects.
- Explain that you will report back towards the end of the meeting.
- Expand – it’s a speech after all. Make it fun, philosophical, or something else!
- Place your Word of the Day in a clear location (or locations)
Presenting Your Feedback
- After the final Speech Evaluator you will have three minutes to present the interesting uses of language that you have noted.
- Feel free to be selective with what you report – you don’t need to comment on everyone on the agenda. Exploring fewer examples in more depth is more rewarding for an audience than lots of examples with no commentary.
- Be sure to recognise how each element supported and reinforced what the speaker had to say. Avoid simply listing words and phrases and saying that they were “good” – analyse their impact – why did they work? How did they work?